Selling Out the Sell-Outs – Part 3 – Looking For Something Better

This is Part 3 in this series. If this is your first time on this site, don’t start here ;-)

Part 2 finished off with the idea that while everything can be said is marketed, we must examine the motivations.

In looking at motivations, we ought to consider the ministry of John the Baptist. It is widely understood that he did not actually “invent” the idea of baptism but was used as a means to be identified with God. Later Jesus-followers would use it to publicly proclaim their identification with the second person of the trinity, the Savior Himself. As we proceed, it is necessary to understand the distinction between human interaction/communication and tactics of marketing.

Second, as K&S point out, “Jesus and the apostles did not have a ‘marketing’ or ‘consumer orientation’ which is what they insist the contemporary church must not have if it to be effective. The reason why Jesus and the early church did not have this orientation is quite simple: As we have shown, the management theory that underwrites such an approach to marketing was developed during the middle part of the twentieth century under very historically specific circumstances” (p. 45).

It has become fashionable to insist that one be relevant to their cultural surroundings. It is also a form of credibility to demonstrate to an audience/demographic/individual the attempt to posture themselves in a way that convinces them of their care. There are clichés, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care” that capture this. But Barna’s call for “systematic study of needs, wants, perceptions, preferences and satisfaction of its members and others whom it is trying to reach” (p. 47) sounds like the institutional form of stalking as opposed to an invitation to encounter the Almighty God. It’s reminiscent of an apocalyptic science fiction movies where there is a secret meeting of aliens preparing to take over the earth. The last thing Christians need today is to appear even stranger.

It would become extremely beneficial for a church to analyze if it has been consumed in the “exchange process” (48-49). K&S made an excellent use of Scripture by using Acts 17:24-25, whereby reminding the reader that God does not need an exchange from the believers but rather the worship is an expression of gratitude and love. Worshippers would enter sanctuaries differently if they adopted that understanding and pastors would preach differently if they did. It will be an interesting to see what needs to happen first for our churches to function this way.
This is precisely one of the failures of the contemporary church. Many ministries have been set up as service centers. “Give us an hour and we’ll give you the truth – God’s truth!”, “Give us your kids and we’ll convert him to well-behaved Christian toddlers”, “Give us your tithe and we’ll give you the soundtrack to sing to Jesus” and so forth. Such a mentality is so arrogant that it nears blasphemy for it implies we are able to place God “under obligation” (p. 53). This Barthian quote ought to appear in our church as often as the times of service, “It is impossible to lay hold of God. Men cannot bind Him, or put him under an obligation, or enter into some reciprocal relationship with Him” (p. 53).

The “user-friendly” church mocks the work of Christ. Such a church builds egos not hope, builds monuments of pride not a servant-like humility and leads to a spirit of competition between other churches rather than asking the Spirit to move and work throughout the Body. To be the bride of Christ, to be the body of Christ is to love Christ first, not one’s own self.

The church board dialogue that occurs in the opening pages of Chapter 5 is all too familiar scene. The church board must decide their “evangelism strategy” It gets ugly. We want certain people over other people. We need money to pay the bills. We don’t want anymore problems than wha twe already have. And it’s among the many reasons why everyone has a terrible church board story.

The moral to most of this particular caricature of meetings is that clearly the pursuit of the Kingdom of God is third priority at best following high attendance and paying the bills. It has always been my observation that despite how serious evangelicals take the Bible, we are extremely slow in taking care of the poor, fighting for the oppressed and comforting the suffering. It is almost as if Jesus said, “Hear O’ Israel, the greatest command is build as big of a church structure as you can. And the second is imitate the world.” Jesus would find no fault with us had He said that.

In fairness, our numerous denominations, endless evangelism schemes and involvement with church marketing has been due to a perverted exaltation of how we have interpreted the Great Commission. We have strived to pursue as an efficient means as possible to mass produce and export the gospel. Our inspirations have not been Paul and Peter and the stories contained in The Acts but rather McDonalds, Coca Cola and Microsoft. By doing so we have domesticated and have sold out the Gospel.

What does one do once they realized they have ruined the family farm? Protect what little self-interest is left, liquidate and quit or start over? As much as I enjoyed reading K&S, I was secretly hoping they would transition from the accurate, critical and prophetic words of demise and conclude with a series of bold exhortations to abandon the marketing mentality, teach our churches to resist the consumer mentality and to pursue the Church that God has called us to. After all it is a book about the Church. And so, I was glad they did in the final chapters 6-8 were joys to read for their calls to courage such as this quote taken from Robert Lupton:

The Church is the only institution which , without irresponsibility, can expend all its resources on great and lavish outbursts of compassion. It is ordained to give itself away, yet without loss. The Church, above all earthly symbols, bears the responsibility of declaring in the outpouring of resources, the utter dependability of God. To preserve its life to lose it (p. 118).

Amen and Amen to Selling Out the Church. While it seems appropriate for K&S to publish a follow up to evaluate the current evangelical landscape (since it was published over 10 years ago, this text offers much to consider and reinforces a great deal of suspicion of how “we do church”. Indeed it is time to sell out the selling out the church and the first to go are my books on church marketing. It is my confident prayer that the Gospel will be enough and May the Lord lead those that persevere against the consumerism, pride and the spiritual forces at war with the Kingdom of God.

"SELLING OUT THE SELL-OUTS” – PART 2 – Everything is Marketed but …

Post 1 finished off with the “over-marketing” of some churches. By that I do not only mean that they market a lot but that they rely heavily on marketing. Perhaps you have seen a place that has relied more on its “techniques and schemes” than on God Himself. Terrible people. I know because I have been guilty of that as well.

But what does it mean to market something? Is George Barna right when he says, everything is “marketed”? Is he wrong when he argues that churches need to do a better job in marketing or “taking on a marketing orientation” (p. 23)? To be fair, everything is “marketed” to some extent, including K&S’ book! The book has a cover that conveys “modest but serious” with an excellent picture of a broken down billboard announcing the book’s title. The text is clean, efficient with sub-headings to help guide the reader and the chapter pages are styled suggesting the smart people at Cascade Books did not merely say, “We’re going to be as simple as possible.”
Further, the book is only 164 pages which attracts readers who do not want to be bogged down in an endless abyss of rhetoric like other books for sale next to it in the “Theology” section. The publishing industry refers to these types of books as an “airplane book” because they are just short enough to read and finish on a plane. Ironically, most of the books by church marketing guru, George Barna are about this length. And finally, the foreword was written by the highly esteemed theologian Stanely Hauerwas and advertises his name on the bottom of the cover. That recommendation alone is a fantastic piece of marketing and as a consumer, I readily confess that I would be most interested in reading a book like this.

While the authors offer that they “are not trying to paint marketing as an evil enterprise …” or (accuse those that do) “are somehow sub-Christian” (p. 34), they do believe it is a serious mistake to place at the center of the church’s self-understanding what the church marketers so innocuously call a marketing orientation (ibid).”

For the sake of clarification, Barna defines further that marketing is “the process by which you seek to apply your product to the desires of the target population” (Barna. p. 23). An initial thought is that at some basic level, everything is “marketed”. If we practiced the same form of deconstruction as a collegiate lunch table after a Philosophy 101 class, George Barna and his marketing friends would have a case. Church signage, service bulletins, the worship experience, the pastor’s attire, websites, the Powerpoint background of the worship songs all apply a value (or desire) targeting a particular audience at some basic level.

Further, I concede that it can be interpreted that Jesus, Paul, and the writers of Scripture exercised some basic form of “marketing”. Evidence would be the decision to write in Greek as opposed to Aramaic or Hebrew. However, the value of K&S’ argument is in how much of a factor should marketing play in the role of the Church? This changes everything. In this light, certain questions are begged like, “What language would you have preferred the New Testament be written in?” The issue is that any language creates a targeted audience. At this basic, almost trivial level, there is no such thing as a language that is not “marketable”.

On a practical level, a naïve application of Barna’s definition would drive one mad. How does one dress? Can one imagine the sheer existential magnitude of determining which outfit to wear in the morning in order to avoid the accusation that “one is marketing him/herself”? How does one decorate their home? The logical answer is that at some point we are not continually marketing ourselves but are wearing clothes and outfitting our living spaces based on our preferences and expressions that the thought of pleasing a target audience is dismissed as “It’s no one’s business but we hope you accept our dinner invitation.”

Thus marketing becomes then an issue of motive. How much will the idea of marketing influence the church? Returning to the examples of Jesus, Paul and the N.T. writers, it would serve us well to question their motivation. When Jesus proclaimed the words that He knew would create enough enemies that would lead to his execution, it’s hard to take seriously He did so because this was the “soteriological product” he needed to promote and sell. It seems more likely that He proclaimed these words out of mission, calling, and a genuine love for people. The vehicles He employs (sermons, miracles, rhetoric, disciple-making) are not rooted in marketing but rather human interaction.

So I conclude this part by dismissing that while everything can be accused of marketed to a targeted audience on some basic level, I am more concerned with the our motivations for why we do what we do, especially as it pertains to the church.

Selling Out the Sell-Outs" – Part 1 – An Enthusiastic Response to "Selling Out the Church"

“Selling Out the Sell-Outs” – An Enthusiastic Response to Selling Out the Church

Like my friend Evan Curry, I too wrote a paper about this book. We loved it.
I’ve adapted it and broken it to a few parts.  It takes a while to get there but my main point is that too many of our churches have become consumer-oriented instead of worship-oriented Kenneson and Street offer an excellent explanation of how and why.

Selling Out the Church is an excellent warning that pastors and church leaders (and anyone interested in the Church) should consider reading. Not only do Phillip D. Kenneson and James L. Street (K&S) reveal the many pitfalls of church consumerism, many of them hidden, but also calls on the reader to examine his/her theology. They offer an essential call to the kingdom and invite each church to evaluate which “strategy” they ought to pursue. To be sure, this is an important topic for much is at stake. Pastors and church leaders cannot afford to take these warnings lightly as not only are souls at stake, but our faithfulness before the Lord as well. This response seeks to respond to K&S’s arguments and reflect if and how they can be applied in today’s American church. It is my conviction, that if churches were willing to do the work of the Kingdom and be the faithful witnesses of the Risen Jesus while abandoning the temptation to build “the best church in town”, our ecclesiological landscape would appear drastically different and our communities would be better.

Indeed there was a certain irony as I read K&S in my church office while surrounded by church marketing titles like Barna’s Revolution, Boiling Point, and the classic, Marketing the Church (which is quoted from excessively by K&S). I surveyed other titles like John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, and newer innovators like Andy Stanley and Craig Goeshel. There are shelves dedicated to youth ministry as well. Titles like, Getting Kids to Show Up, 30 Awesome Lessons For Impacting Teens and the Doug Fields masterpiece, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry. After reading Selling Out the Church, I wondered if the idea of a good old-fashioned “book burning” was in order. Unfortunately these types of fires are illegal in my county and this left some additional time for further consideration.

Before going further, there are a couple things and a couple types of churches that I want to clarify here. There are churches that probably think they practice parts of this book. “We don’t market – Look at our church sign. Simple.” Meanwhile, many who drove by think it’s ugly and outdated. “Look at our church bulletins – flowers with Bible verses – traditional.” People who grab them on Sundays, “I think this is the same dandelion picture with Psalm 8:9 (How majestic is…) that I have seen since I was a kid. These Christians are obsessed with a nature photography from the 60’s; why aren’t we meeting in a greenhouse by now? Don’t be offended, I’m just having fun here – besides everyone knows I’m not a fan of bulletin covers.

Then there is the church that is heavily marketed. An enormous amount of energy and money are allocated towards this and in some ways, their ministry is their marketing. They have cool outdoor signs. You know you have too cool of a church logo if you actually want to make a shirt and wear it. Their websites and bulletin handouts have beautiful models from all ethnicities. And the biggest lie of all is that they’re smiling because they are just so happy to be in church! That’s right, there’s a picture of Heidi Klum, Seal and their kids running into the front doors of the church … smiling!

When we start selling the church like we sell teeth whitening kits, we have a problem.
Part 2 tomorrow. If you want to read more, check out Evan’s excellent posts here and here.

Monday Morning Brief – Jan. 25. 2010

What I Enjoyed This Week

1. We took Dylan to church for the first time. Like the old guy in 8th row, he slept most of the service ;-)
2. My adorable niece, Lina rolled over for the first time!
3. We had a great seminary class on Tuesday as we discussed racism and the multi-cultural hope for our church. I think I speak for most in our cohort that it was one of the best classes we’ve had.
4. Followed by spending some long overdue time with the illustrious Todd Hiestand and the brilliant Evan Curry.  Todd is currently tied for third as my all time favorite bi-vocational pastor.
5. Saturday night’s Second Mile Service went well. So much to say about it really, but this may not be the space. That said, I really believe in the potential of this community.

Those wonderful things are not to be taken for granted but I carried a heavy heart this week.
Sunday was “Sanctity of LIfe” Sunday and while we can discuss the number of aspects connected to this enormous debate, between 40-50 million children have been aborted. It’s just profoundly unacceptable.
Further, the situation in Haiti is so tragic. While I am moved by the number of stories of people being found in the rubble, I am disheartened by the evil people who kidnapped children out of the triage tents and have likely trafficked them. Anger swells up inside of me when I think about that.  I do not question God’s divine presence at work among all the suffering and I understand that we are in an evil, tragedy-stricken, fallen world.  But these days I ache for the day of ultimate redemption for all creation.  Thus, it’s in these days, that Christianity makes the most sense and not the least.
Speaking of human trafficking, it is estimated that there are 27 million people in our world being trafficked. I’ve shared other statistics with our Senor High students and at the Second Mile service and as a community, we are looking to get involved.
In the words of Dr. King, “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

What I’ve Been Reading
Divided by Faith – Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. I feel like I’ve been reading some incredible books lately. Though the font is extremely small and the publisher got their money’s worth by stretching out the margins (yeah I learned all that in undergrad too Oxford Press ;-), the content of the book is brilliant.
I’ve been sharing this repeatedly but I am still not over how the white American church refused to preach the gospel to their African slaves because believing they were “sub-human”, they did not have souls. Then when they decided to proselytize, it was out of fear of rebellion and revolt so the clergy taught the slaves to be obedient to their masters.

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch (love this guy) and Not For Sale – The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone.

More to say on those books but will have to wait for another time.

What made me laugh this week:

There we were talking about Lost at our local diner when a few friends said they didn’t watch Lost. What? You love Jesus but don’t watch LOST?
That’s ok. Just like 5 point Calvinists, God will still love you too and I don’t judge you. But then I got this email from a dear friend.

Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

Well, whatever, I can’t wait til February 2. I have school that night but I’m thinking about calling in sick/tired/unrepentant/whatever/;-)

Reflecting on Jim Wallis in New York

About a week ago I went to see Jim Wallis at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. After reading his best-selling book God’s Politics, What the Right Gets Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get, I became interested in the non-profit he founded, Sojourners. For years, it provided excellent insights and featured the contributions of Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and many others. While it still provides quality discussion from the many new(er) voices like Julie Clawson,…. However throughout 2009, I had become increasingly frustrated and perhaps a bit bored by their current trajectory.

From where I sit, Wallis and much of the content was becoming overly preachy and perhaps a tad exclusive. As a reader, I feel that I am no longer being invited to consideration and discussion but in so many words, being told how a Christian should think.

While Wallis and Sojourers have always been progressive, they carried with them a sense of patience and fairness. Then, along with this past fall’s attacks on the Fox News personalities (O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck), they seemed to have crossed a threshold that had little room for nuance and moderation. Now I am not a Fox News fan. In fact, I think those aforementioned names are not helpful while I concede they occasionally make a good point. Sort of like the broken clock that’s right twice a day if you know what I mean.  But what i am not looking for is the Religious Left’s answer to the Religious Right.

So that night listening to Walls became important for me as I needed to hear Wallis and attempt to understand him before dismissing him as the Jerry Falwell of the Left. (Back off, I went to Falwell’s school – I’ve earned the right to say that ;-). Truth be told, I’ll always love Falwell and Wallis as I regard them as Christian brothers but I’ve resolved for years to guard my thinking from those whom I perceive to be angry and self-righteous).

So as I mentioned, the gathering took place at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.  A bit of context. There were about 200 people gathered. Many from excellent NY organizations like NY Faith and Justice, the Latino Leadership Circle and a couple others. Also, tonight was a stop on the new book for the recently released Rediscovering Values – On Wall Street, Main Street, Your Street.

After a series of introductions, Wallis came up, cheerful, optimistic, but resolute. As the night continued, my respect for him resumed. Perhaps I had been too hard on him. Maybe his charm was getting the best of me. Maybe I’m not angry enough. Maybe they have adapted their marketing schemes to my mentality and they are out-maneuvering my skepticism. They must think very highly of me. What was in that Chai tea I got earlier in the Village?

Here were my notes from that night:

I wanted to launch my book in Detroit (my hometown).
The logic of this in a town with a 40% unemployment rate is a bit off. But this is exactly what the book is about. So Simon & Shuster donated hundreds of free books. 500 people showed up. Many of them were grass-roots social organizers)

The first chapter is about Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer and it’s called Sunday School with Jon Stewart.
You can download that first chapter at this link.

When then are no values the market devours other sectors.
What has happened is that market has become our nation’s god.
He referenced an Atlantic Monthly article When the Market Becomes God by Harvey Cox.
The market is omniscient, all knowing, restless, angry.
The shaman is Greenspan – lol!

We must let this crisis reset our values and practices.

The old maxims have been altered:
Greed is good as (opposed to greed is bad).
I want it now instead of the virtue of waiting
Keeping up with the Jones’ instead of making sure the Jones’ are ok.
Me, me, instead of “We’re all in this together”.

He gave an illustration about canaries.
Coal miners used to take canary birds into the mines because they were able to detect when the air was becoming toxic before humans could.
So they had to listen to the canaries.
The poor are society’s canaries.
If you don’t’ care about the poor, you don’t care about the common good.
We stopped (ignored) the canaries. And when the poor continue to suffer, it’s only a matter of time when the rest are affected.
This is necessary for the health of society.
The Scriptures judge us by how we treat our poor.
A Q &A speaker panel followed Wallis. It was an excellent conversation and each of their insights reminded me that it would be great to have weekly townhall meetings. Not because all of our problems can be solved in these spaces, but this conversation was anchored in the Gospel of Jesus and while the solutions are complicated, it’s always good to fight the good fight (as opposed to watching Idol or something).

It was a helpful night for me. Not only in my impressions of Wallis but in the bigger picture. There was much for me to consider. I did not buy the book, maybe I will eventually. Frankly I have a lot to read right now. That said, these are the subjects that are truly important. These transcend politics (which are important), media wars, consumer church, and I’m interested in building the Kingdom with the many that follow Jesus.

Here is Wallis Book Diary post on his stop in NYC.

Here is a clip of Wallis on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
It’s a fun interview. They talk about corporate bailouts, Haiti, Pat Robertson, and Wallis makes a beautiful remark, “God is always on the side of the suffering.”

Reflecting on Listening to a (Bad) Sermon, Stale Hymns, Dance-beat Worship & the Typical Sunday Morning Worship Experience

If you are a fellow worshipper in my church community, you are thinking, “What – he doesn’t like his senior pastor’s preaching??”. Sorry this post is not about that all (I love my pastor, his preaching, his ministry, and the fact that he really believes in me and the staff).

This post is more about the worshipper in general. It’s a bit about me, maybe about you, but it’s the caricature based on countless conversations that have taken place moments after a worship service in the lobby, the following day at a coffee shop, and some times, from those who have abandoned the faith.

If you have noticed, we tend to ask say similar things after a worship service as we do after a movie. “Did you like it?”, “I liked the soundtrack”, “The original was better”, and “I didn’t understand it really”.

After a church service you probably have heard one of these:
“That message didn’t really speak to me.”
“That message really spoke to me.”
“I’m glad I came.”
“I didn’t like the music today.”
“I really liked the music today. We should always do it like that.”
and the ever classic, “I didn’t get anything out of that.”

Allow be to be honest – There have been Sundays when I have fought to stay engaged.  Sometimes the preaching was “off”.  But sometimes it has simply been due to my own failing. Perhaps I came into the sanctuary not ready to worship whether it was due to lack of focus, overly-stressed, or feeling “overly-churched” at the moment.

But as worshippers we should not be coming to church just to hear a message or to sing songs or even drink really bad coffee.

I can hear the thoughts of some, “Oh you’re just saying that because you don’t like to feel the pressure of giving the sermon.” In all honesty, that’s not really it. While there is pressure in preparing and delivering the sermon, I find a lot of fulfillment in that. I imagine most pastors do. The pressure comes from saying the things you feel the Lord has laid on your heart and saying them effectively and interesting enough so your audience is able to connect with it. The pressure is in overcoming the temptation in giving people an entertaining show versus offering the words the Lord has spoken to you through times of prayer, study, and listening to the voices throughout your community.

I am obviously not the first to say this but more and more, I see the Church becoming even more consumer-based. “Give the people what they want, pastor!”, “Do your job, why else are we here?”. With that mentality, the church has become my business, the worshipper is my customer, the gospel is my product, and God is in the back room organizing the inventory. I can hear it now, “What – we need to sell some joy? Ok new sermon series, “Jesus Joy: The 5 Ways You Can Have Happiness Today!” It sounds like I’m kidding, but as a worshipper (or as one who has participated in leading the worship), can we not all relate to this in some way?

For the Christian, the worship is directed to God. Most of us know this. However, why is that so many times we leave the service complaining about the length of the service, the sound quality, the content, and my favorite, the powerpoint background (I kid you not)? When I walk out feeling that way, I realize that I was the audience of my worship, not God.

Not sure how to say this but in between growing up in the church, my education, my 10 years of pastoral ministry, there’s not a lot that’s being said/sung/prayed that’s new to me these days. I imagine many can relate to that on some level. This is perhaps why I value my education and enjoy reading and conversing about theology and culture so much but learning about my faith is not worship.

However I come to worship to express my love to God hopefully with a community I love, that loves me, loves others, and ultimately loves God.

Thus, the elements of worship actually become secondary. I don’t need the preacher to be as moving as  Edward Scissorhands. So engaging on a sermon about forgiveness that I have heard throughout my life is an act of worship.  And understanding the power of forgiveness may move me to not only be inspired but to actually forgive.
Reflecting and praying on the stale sounding hymn or an obnoxious sounding “Jesus is my boyfriend worship” song is an act of worship.
Praying along with the one who is leading our time of prayer as opposed to staring at my watch is an act of worship.
Giving my offering and not wondering how it will be spent is an act of worship.
Coming and being centered on my Lord as opposed to attending a service is an act of worship

The list goes on and on, especially if we were to consider what worship looks like apart from Sunday morning. With that heart, I love the promise of the Church. And while there are many in my community that feel this way and practice this way, I know two things – we need to embody this more and I need to embody this more. And so, may a beautiful worship service begin with me as I enter the sanctuary ready to give God His due praise and may those around me do likewise in their own way.

Monday Morning Brief – on Tues. Jan. 19, 2010, (this blog takes off for MLK day and most Mondays ;-)

What I’ve Been Enjoying Lately –
1. Family stuff like Nathan learning new words and phrases and Dylan-watching. Saturday, our 3 month old almost turned all the way over. He got stuck on his right arm and could not complete the exercise but was able to return to his original position. I was walking him through it, “Buddy, you need to tuck that arm in and commit to the roll! Push off with your hips! Use your legs if you have to.” but he would just stare at me. I can’t wait til you learn words pal, I can really help you out.
2. Enjoyed seeing Doug Pagitt with my friend Jesse. Was also great seeing the one and only Don Heatley and meeting his wife Pam finally. Will post on Doug’s seminar-message thing at some point.
3. Enjoyed spending MLK with some of our students today. Our intention was to attend the MLK parade in Manhattan but we were at the right place on the right day, but apparently our time was off (The website said 1pm). Ended up walking all over Manhattan before the start time of Invictus. We all liked it and it was good spending time together.

What I’ve Been Watching
1. Just watched Lions for Lambs. A lot of good dialogue in there, a lot of heart, a lot of conviction. I think it needed a different type of conclusion. I know the intention was to leave you hanging and “think about what you just heard and saw” but I felt it was a bit flat. The acting was fantastic, especially since it had a great script. It was a good statement movie.
2. Just started watching 24. I am pretty sure I can watch in once a month and still know exactly what’s going on. I was joking with some fiends earlier that I want to see 4 things this season: Jack to recharge his cell phone, eat something, walk out of the bathroom and wink at the camera, and be wrong once. But I do love that Jack Bauer.

What I’ve Been Reading –
Some excellent books for school – Selling Out the Church by Phillip Kenneson & James Street & Divided By Faith – Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
I’ve been flipping through the Younger Evangelicals by Robert Webber
Some of my good friends are blogging again – check out Evan Curry’s My Names are Promise and Peace and Daniel Kirk’s blog, Storied Theology, Daniel Kirk is the professor/author of Unlocking Romans.

What I’m Listening to –
Aside from the Paste Samplers, Swell Season not much new stuff. When I get into my car, the click wheel automatically goes to Dylan, Death Cab or David Crowder. Susan played Over the Rhine the other day so I listened to the Ohio double album on Saturday’s drive to school. A few podcasts, like Relevant and Homebrewed. But lately, I’ve been in the car and not listening to any music.

What’s Going on in Our Student Ministry –
Well a lot but namely, we are gearing up for our winter retreat next month. As previously mentioned we are watching the offensive documentary (more like a mockyoumentary) Religulous by Bill Maher. There’s a good bit that I agree with but I wouldn’t call that Christianity. Anyway, I’m praying and preparing that our discussions will help
our students with their own doubts, the skepticism from those outside our faith, and the confusion that often surrounds it all.

What’s Next –
Second Mile service this Saturday – we are taking a retrospective look at the Lost Decade and as a community hoping to look ahead at the next 10. What does this look like as individuals as a Christian community, as those pursuing the Kingdom of God?
Have received a lot of positive feedback about the blog since linking it to Facebook. That’s been encouraging. Also have really appreciated recent comments – thanks for taking the time. Will be making some posts that may not be relevant to a broader audience but I’m hoping they’ll still be helpful/insightful for some.

A Broken Heart Is a Better Response to the Crisis in Haiti – Part 2

In light of my previous post, I thought I’d write on the other side of how I felt. Like everyone my heart is broken for the massive loss of life in Haiti.

I remember reading in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers that the worst accidents are usually the result of a series of mistakes and unfortunate circumstances that converge on a single moment. While he was referring to plane crashes, I could not help but see a correlation.

To illustrate further, one can click the quick post on The Tale of Two Earthquakes. A massive earthquake, a dense population, and many poorly constructed homes are among the many factors that contributed to a high death toll. Add the lack of social infrastructure, lack of adequate emergency services, an extremely poor energy grid, and the nightmare continues.

In all the apocalyptic disaster movies I’ve watched, I still cannot bear to imagine the pain of actually living through this. I was tempted to stop reading the NY Times piece but continued with the hope that reading about their pain would demand me to pray and give more. The mere observation of it has proved to be overwhelming and I am relieved that in all of the violence I have witnessed, I have not become decenstized enough to not care. Further, in an odd sense, I am comforted by the grief around me because it communicates that we are not numb, that we care, that we are human. So how does one respond to such a tragedy?

I must say I was encouraged by the shock and the outpouring of care. All day, emails were being exchanged trying to determine the status of missionaries that were living there. Former pastors and members emailed requesting prayer and forwarding their correspondences of connections they had from Haiti. I woke up this morning and received an email of a family that had been mentioned yesterday were alive and though homeless, they were safe. However, in a different email chain, one family has not yet reported in. Everyone is connected in some way.

Friends on Facebook and Twitter forwarded opportunities to help contribute relief funds. I’ve added links below. You could even text money from your phone through American Red Cross. This was compassion, community and technology at its best.

Passing by a television I heard a comment of someone who saw on her television a school that their she and her volunteer team had constructed this past summer. It was completely destroyed. As awful as that moment was, there was a swallow of comfort knowing that people were serving, building, and loving Haiti before this tragedy.

As we speak, there are volunteer organizations and people on the ground already doing their best to help. Many more are on the way and in the short term, we will feel encouraged by the outpouring of love from the world. But what we do next year will still matter. What we do five years from now will be of great importance.

This is exactly the reason of why our youth group is returning to New Orleans this summer. While it may be out of the spotlight, there is so much to be done. The summer after that, we hope to return to serve the AIDS camp we served at this summer. And while our church youth group will not be able to go to meet every need, there is a goodness in a keeping a broken heart. It compels us to pray to a loving God, it insists that we find ways to help, it encourages other people to get involved in their way, it helps keeps us humble, and offers us to keep perspective of what really matters.  Maybe the Lord will lead us to work with our Haitian missionary, maybe the Lord will lead you.

As we pray, grieve we can also give and here are a few safe ways we can donate:

Those in my denomination have been encouraged to give through EFCA Touch Global Fund

The American Red Cross is one of the most widely known organizations working in Haiti. They accept online donations, help volunteers arrange to give time or other support, and can accept $10 donations, charged to your cellphone bill, by texting HAITI to 90999.


Doctors Without Borders

I am a Christian pastor and I am angry with Pat Robertson …

Initially I was not going to post on this but I changed my mind right after this conversation with the barista at Borders, “Hey you’re a pastor, what did you think of what Pat Robertson said?”.  I said it was terrible, spoke on the distraction that it’s causing the suffering in Haiti and said a couple of things, including it was not Christ-llike.  He responded with, “Yeah, but all those guys are like that …maybe not you personally but …” and preceded to tell me why Christians suck.

“It may be a blessing in disguise. … Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. Haitians were originally under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal. Ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other.” –Pat Robertson, on the earthquake in Haiti that destroyed the capital and killed tens of thousands of people, Jan. 13, 2010

I am a Christian pastor and I am angry with Pat Robertson … but it’s what I do next that matters.

Can I love Pat Robertson?
Words cannot express my frustration with this man.  If the word “optimism” comes to mind when hearing of the death of thousands of people, then it is more likely that he is actually delusional then a Spirit-filled Christian.  Watching this video is painful and I will not be convinced that we are watching and hearing the words of a healthy Christian mind.  It isn’t just bad theology, it’s a complete lack of compassion being broadcast to millions of people. Allowing this man to appear on television today was a sin for the Church.

Frankly, I find his continued actions to be absolutely deplorable. He’s on a short list of people (Osama, Ahmadinejad, Fred Phelps …). That said, I find the words of Jesus to be even more powerful than this terrible informed man who has diarrhea of the mouth. I can find forgiveness and with God’s grace, I can love the corrupt, the terrorist, all evildoers, even myself. I know that I must pray for this man.  I must pray for my treatment of him.  I must pray for those around him, for those who regard him as a hero and for those that see him as a delusional, crazy, idiot.  As you can see, there’s a lot to pray for but many of us have prayed these prayers before.  And if we cannot find it within in our souls to pray for this man, then the gospel is not in us.  For more see Evan Curry’s post, “Pat You Are Wrong But I Forgive You”.

However, as a Christian community, we are overdue in trying to find a way to remove this man from this position. This is not the first time he has said such things.  We must lovingly remove this man from his microphone. I am not suggesting that we assassinate him like how he suggested that someone assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Nor am I saying that he is/was not a Christian. While I am tempted to trade him to a different religion (“Someone get Phil Jackson’s agent on the line!”), I think it’s time that he step down or be removed from his position.

I know he’s only a televangelist and the people who watch him and support him are the same who purchase exercise products and “get rich quick” videos from noon til 2am but it’s time to pull the plug on the 700 Club and quite possible the network he founded.  How does one stop a network? Does anyone have any actual experience in this? This might become a post-seminary goal right after starting a pub church. I’m thinking the way not to go is creating another Facebook group that begins with “1 Million Christians Who …”. While I applaud their efforts in somehow keeping email free (thereby demonstrating that God is clearly on their side), these groups usually only manage to annoy Christians and non-Christians. Chances are the network will die when Pat passes on (biting my digital tongue) or when the Golden and Boomer generations run out of money but I think as a Church, we need to remove this man as soon as possible and I think it’s time for his network to put on a farewell special for him.

“Can’t we just ignore him?”
I read a tweet of someone I respect and he mentioned that we ought not to call attention to Robertson comparing him to a crazy uncle of some sort.  (It reminded of that scene in Charlie Wilson’s War when Tom Hanks yells, “This is the Cold War – everybody knows about it!”.  Well, for starters, I’ve never had the proverbial crazy uncle. So I’m not sure how that goes. But in the same way that I expect moderate, peace-keeping Muslims to renounce extremists, I am among the many who are renouncing Pat Robertson. He’s like a suicide bomber minus the high commitment level. Seriously, we cannot keep dismissing this man as a senile old man, the old man needs to step down – it’s what a loving Church should do for the encouragement to itself, for the witness of those outside the faith and for the sake of the Kingdom.

For further reading, these are the posts that helped temper me.  One last thought though, please do not channel your grief of the crisis in Haiti  towards this man and not to do something redemptive with that energy (like pray, give, find opportunities to help, etc.).

A Response to Pat Robertson’s Comments about Haiti by Don Miller

“God, Jesus Announce Boycott of 700 Club” by the Desperate Blogger’s Salon page – this one made me laugh.

Why It Matters How We Respond to Bad Theology by Ed Cyzewski

Into the Wild From My Warm Suburban Living Room

The other night I finally watched Into the Wild (Stop reading if you don’t want to know how this movie ends. Just about every possible spoiler is mentioned here). I remember this story when it was a popular news feature in the 90’s. I remember the first impressions the story gave you was that the young man was crazy. I remember the discussion of a bag of rice, the Magic Bus, and the Alaskan cold. And I’m pretty sure Rolling Stone magazine did an article on this years before there was ever a movie.  (And of course RS loved the movie.)

In short it’s about Christopher McCandless who upon graduating from Emory University, disengages from society and lives in the Alaskan wild where he eventually dies of either poison or starvation. The movie is adapted from Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book (with the same title).

What makes the story compelling is that Chris was an extremely interesting and intelligent young man. He isn’t crazy but rather he has no care for money (in fact, he donates his $24,000 life savings to Oxfam) recites literature (especially Thoreau, Tolstoy and Emerson) and has no regard for virtually anything society values. Think Neo divorcing himself from the matrix but in real life and without Morpheus or sunglasses. He even changes his name  – to Alex.

Emile Hirsh does a fantastic job in offering the movie watcher a glimpse of what this may have looked like. It’s fun watching a character who is not bogged down by schedules, bills, but rather in love with the nature and care free abandon. Yep, nothing like unwinding from a busy week of work, deadlines, various pressures by watching a movie about a guy who seemingly chooses to not have stress. The irony is that I am watching a movie about it on my LCD.  I imagine for most of the audience, there is an infatuation by the freedom of Alex’s life.

On my drive to school, I was really thinking about this story. For me, the carefree spirit is the only thing that I really valued about “Alex”. I’d like to visit Alaska but only if it were with my family/friends. It looked cool to scream from on top of the abandoned bus but I would have felt ridiculous after I realized there was no camera recording my primal yell for crowded theaters and netflix subscribers. I have never had any serious desire of unplugging from life – especially these days. While there are several things that frustrate me about suburban life and grind, I usually just need a change of scenery, a workout, a conversation over a thai lunch and some time in quiet meditation to feel renewed. That’s my unplugging from “the matrix”.

I enjoy my loving marriage, I live for the sporadic affection of a 19 month old son and the random smiles and spit-ups of a 9 week old. Wonderful family, a lot of good friends, and most days I find fulfillment from my vocation/ministry. Emile Hirsch should make a movie about me.

Yep, sitting in my church office reading emails while listening to Eddie Vedder’s accompanying soundtrack, sipping my Rwandan coffee. I can already feel the envy of the cubicle people. In fact sometimes the office is so warm, I have to crack the window. This is what Chris finds reprehensible – wasting one’s life in an office.

I may comfort myself by the reassurance that I am not selling insurance. The insurance salesman comforts himself by the reassurance he is not selling cars. While the car salesman comforts himself by the reassurance that he is not selling religion.

So why I am here? For me, divorcing myself from the ways of the world is modeled by Jesus and not the wilderness wanderer. I know this sounds preachy but this is one of my favorite parts of the Christian faith – because of Jesus, the ways of the world does not need to control us. One may have to pay taxes but the government doesn’t control your soul (only a third of your salary). One may have to abide my other laws and principles but above them all stands the hope and love found in Christ.

Watching Into the Wild, I felt sorry for Alex that he found his community exclusively in nature with the soundtrack of dead white writers. I couldn’t help but think that he didn’t need his dad’s NASA job, he could have been a literature professor and taken his sons hiking and camping on weekends. He could have brought them into a different sanctuary on a Sunday morning had worshipped the God of creation. Now, I know this is not close to the point of the movie (nor would one have been made) and that Alex’s character may have been further driven to suffocation by my Sunday morning experience. That said, I’d prefer my life not end in an abandoned school bus on a desolate mountain in Alaska. From his diary, it seemed that he was not ready to die like that either. By the time the credits rolled up, your heart is broken and the infatuation you have of leaving it all behind quickly evaporates.

What’s worse is that we as a society and smaller, we in the Church failed to offer Alex something better. Indeed many of our lives resemble his parents’ home, consumed by success and money, hurting and being hurt by each other, anger, neglect, dirty secrets; it is not inconceivable that one would rather live in a tent, wake up to the sun rise and read Jack London instead.

At the same time, watching Into the Wild reminded me not to waste my life in my office or in my car or on my couch or in my shopping mall. My “wild”, the place(s) where I find true life roaming is in the communion of the triune God and because of that, also in the space of family, friends, and others. The movie, though wonderfully shot and with a great soundtrack is a welcomed exercise in taking inventory of the trajectory of life.